Their names are Hrai, Oko, and Tur, and they can be spotted on signs and in adverts all over Ukraine. They are national symbols who have earned a firm place in the country’s collective consciousness. That’s right – we’re talking about the stars of the classic cartoon “Kozaky”, (“The Cossacks”).
Created by Volodymyr Dakhno and produced by Kyiv Science Films (today known as Ukranimafilm), the original series premiered in 1967 and ran for nearly 30 years. The three main characters are immediately recognisable: Hrai, the chieftain, is the straight leading man who comes up with all the clever plans. Diminutive Oko can be identified by his trailing moustache, comedic feistiness, and impulsivity. Tur is a brawny strong man with a sensitive and intuitive side. Viewers are won over by the show’s joyful, whimsical mood, and the characters’ innocence and sincerity. As in many vintage cartoons, there is no dialogue; instead, the visuals are accompanied by spirited music and sound effects.
Must-watch episodes include:
- “How the Cossacks Played Football” (1970): The Cossacks form their own football team (each with his own unique and endearing style) and play against teams from Germany, France and England.
- “How the Cossacks Freed the Brides” (1973): The Cossacks save a group of Ukrainian maidens who are kidnapped by pirates while celebrating Ivana Kupala. En route they visit Ancient Greece, Egypt, and India.
- “How the Cossacks Became Olympians” (1978): The Cossacks become involved in a dispute between the gods Zeus and Mars. Zeus wants to set up the Olympic games, while Mars wants to undermine him and start more wars. The Kozaks help Zeus and challenge Mars at the Games.
- “How the Cossacks helped the Musketeers” (1979): The three Cossacks join forces with the three Musketeers to help unite the Sultan’s daughter with the French prince and thwart the schemes of the wicked cardinal.
- “How the Cossacks Celebrated a Wedding” (1984): This one is derived from the stories of Gogol. Tur regrets being single until he meets a charming maiden to whom he promises a new pair of boots. He gets trapped at a witch’s sabbath hosted by the devil, who promises him a pair of boots in exchange for his soul. Tur resists and is duly rescued by his friends.
- “How the Cossacks Met Aliens” (1987): The Cossacks encounter three aliens who somewhat resemble them. Searching for fuel for their UFO, they travel through Bulgaria and Spain.
- “How the Cossacks Played Hockey” (1995): The final episode, released after the fall of the Soviet Union, features the Cossacks as the parents of an entire children’s hockey team. While hosting the Canadian hockey team, they have to thwart their former pirate enemies once again.
The series relaunched in 2016 with shorts featuring the Cossacks continuing their football adventures around the world – a tour of Europe and a venture into Asia too. In 2018 they journeyed on to India, Australia, and the USA.
If you need some light relief after a long day, or want a bit of immersion in Ukrainian culture, then Hrai, Oko, and Tur are your guys.